Charisma and controversy
: Benjamin Keach (1640-1704) and the Baptist debate about congregational hymnody

  • Matthew Stanton

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Protestantism in seventeenth century England was fractured. A group, known as Dissenters, left the established Church of England. Some of these Dissenters challenged the use of exclusive Psalmody and began to propagate the use of hymns in public worship. These hymns were categorized as newly composed songs. There is a gap in scholarship surrounding this transformation within dissent. However, given that last Sunday about 630 million Evangelicals gathered to sing hymns, the singing practices of these Dissenters are significant. Benjamin Keach (1640-1704) was a Particular Baptist minister who first introduced hymn singing in his congregation in 1673. This worship innovation soon attracted opposition and a decade long polemic ensued in the 1690s.
Chapter one traces the origins and practices of singing in early English baptistic congregations. The chapter explores the definitional change of the term “inspired songs” by submitting that it was Keach who first began to argue for the use of uninspired -newly composed- songs in public worship. Chapter two focuses specifically on Keach’s biography and publications. Keach sought to normalize the extraordinary and charismatic practices of singing that developed in the earlier stages of the baptistic movement. Therefore, the chapter argues that the hymn controversy of the 1690s was an extension of early disputes on singing. The polemic is analyzed over two chapters. Chapter three deals with the debate over the validity of singing (1690-1692), and chapter four, the debates over who should sing and what should be sung (1694-1698). As the polemic neared its conclusion, more congregations began to adopt the practice of hymn singing. Chapter five details that by the end of the century, not only had Keach’s position endured, but hymn singing became an established practice amongst many dissenting congregations throughout London and the surrounding areas.
Date of AwardJul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorCrawford Gribben (Supervisor) & Ian Campbell (Supervisor)

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